The Air Up There Podcast
Neurodiversity: A Superpower
It’s true that not all superheroes wear capes. In fact, there are some that take flight in the thrilling realm of drones. In our latest podcast episode, we teleport to Neurodiversity Works, a non-profit organization that equips neurodiverse students for a career in the drone industry. Tune in as we embark on a fascinating mission with the co-founder, Jason San Souci.
In the episode, Jason introduces us to a community of superheroes with an incredible superpower – neurodiversity! Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder and other neurological or developmental conditions like ADHD. Jason strikes down misconceptions and reveals that you don’t need x-ray vision to see that people with this superpower are extraordinary assets in the drone industry and our aerospace community. We also explored the FAA’s role in drone safety with Part 107 rules.
Prepare to shapeshift your knowledge of neurodiversity – a movement built on support, understanding, and empowerment. Discover the lucrative career opportunities for neurodiverse individuals in the drone industry spanning from artificial intelligence and software development to operations and safety. Superman, who?
With superhuman speed, we encourage you to share this episode with your family, friends, and colleagues.
Learn more about Part 107 and how the FAA collaborates with industry and communities to advance drone operations and integrate them safely into the national airspace.
Meet Our Guest:
Jason San Souci is a seasoned remote sensing and GIS expert with 20 years of experience, holding certifications as a UAS Mapping Scientist, GIS Professional, and Level 3 Thermographer. A proud graduate of the US Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado, he holds a Master's in Space Operations. At Neurodiversity Works, he plays a pivotal role in formulating the workforce development strategy for underrepresented neurodiverse students. Jason holds key positions as Chief Architect at Juniper Unmanned, Drone Doctor at Blue Nose Aerial Imaging, and Instructor at Pilot Byte. Among his wide range of activities, he hosts the "Do You Know Drones?" Podcast and serves as an FAA Safety Team DronePro.
Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, DOT, or FAA. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service.
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Jason San Souci: I was diagnosed a few years ago, as autistic. This is not a shock for me. I knew I was weird. In a good way. I outwardly am very personable, very friendly, I speak well, very knowledgeable. But that's comes at a toll. Because I've masked the ability to be neurotypical for 40 plus years.
Lucy Jabbour: That’s Jason San Souci, drone scientist, the co-founder of Neurodiversity Works and our guest.
Jason San Souci: I’m kind of a big deal [laughs].
Lucy Jabbour: We’re you’re hosts. I’m Lucy Jabbour.
DaiJah Metoyer: And I’m DaiJah Metoyer. And you're listening to The Air Up There!
Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying is just; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.
Lucy Jabbour: In this episode you’ll hear us talking about the rules commercial drone pilots need to follow. It’s called Part 107. These rules not only help keep our airspace system safe and efficient, but they also help protect people on the ground!
DaiJah Metoyer: That’s right. Part 107 lists the requirements you need to become an FAA certified Remote Pilot. That includes things like how you can fly at night - and even how you can fly your drone over people safely.
Lucy Jabbour: Thanks for joining us, Jason.
Jason San Souci: Truly, my pleasure.
Lucy Jabbour: So, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jason San Souci: Absolutely. So, I've had quite the diverse career. It's been really awesome. I'm currently in sort of like the give back phase. But I started, went to the Air Force Academy got a Master of Engineering in astronautical engineering, aka rocket science. That became a little if I'm being honest, a little boring. Very, very siloed very compartmentalized. And that's just not the way my brain works. So, I got into remote sensing, I actually took one class and I've now built a 20 plus year career on it. It's been really fun. My current gig are the flying ham sandwiches called drones. And I've been doing that for, wow, for about 11 years now, so.
Lucy Jabbour: Flying ham sandwich.
DaiJah Metoyer: I caught that too.
Lucy Jabbour: Where does that come from?
Jason San Souci: I will give credit where credit is due that came from one of my sales managers. We traveled all over the world and he would always refer to them as that and I was like, it just stuck.
Lucy Jabbour: So, let's get into it with your passion that you're talking about here. And the reason you're here, can you tell us what is Neurodiversity Works?
Jason San Souci: Let me first define neurodiversity, because I think that your audience may not be that familiar? It's more of a concept and a movement. Essentially that neurological differences like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, are more just differences in the human genome, not defects or disorders. They don't need to be cured. It's about, you know, levels of support and understanding. So, it's really a movement that's about lifting everyone up, regardless of their neuro type. And so, you have neurotypical, and then you have neurodiverse, and so all everyone, sort of, still in one bucket. You don't have to be formally diagnosed with anything to be neurodiverse.
Lucy Jabbour: Okay.
Jason San Souci: You can just have a different way of thinking.
DaiJah Metoyer: Are there any misconceptions or myths surrounding being neurodiverse that you would like to debunk?
Jason San Souci: Absolutely. There are several, but let me let me focus on two. One is that neurodiverse individuals are intellectually inferior. Just not true. Just absolutely not true. Or they have some sort of barrier, or, or defect. Something that that causes them to not be a good fit within a workforce. So that's one. And then the other one, sort of like the assumption that all neurodiverse people sort of learn the same way. Okay, there, there are literally no people that – zero - in the population that learn the exact same way. And really, it's more about the environment and the supports that change around a neurodivergent individual that requires the support. Nothing in the lesson. Nothing in the experience. Nothing in the curriculum needs to change. The only thing that changes is maybe they need to have a different support. Maybe they have a reading or speaking device.
Lucy Jabbour: Meeting people where they're at to teach them. I love that. What's your elevator pitch about Neurodiversity Works and why it's important in today's workplace?
Jason San Souci: We prepare neurodiverse students for careers in the drone industry. And that can include geospatial, AI, software development. Really, the whole breadth of that encompasses the industry. Not just operations, maintenance, safety, it's all of it. We want to give our students a wide breadth, while also supporting them individually. One of the things that we want to sort of make known is that these aren't less capable people. Like these students are extremely capable, if you can hone in on what we call the area of concentration or area of interest. You can find that thing and they're going to turn it up to an 11 or 12, or 15 and we have to play catch up. So, we as in our organization has to play catch up to support them because they're on a rocket ship and we're just grabbing on and hopefully that we can, we can support them the best way they know how. So, these are amazing potential employees for any industry, honestly. Obviously, I'm being a little selfish. The drone industry needs people that think differently. So, we're recruiting them over to our side.
DaiJah Metoyer: Can you tell us what inspired you to start Neurodiversity Works?
Jason San Souci: Yeah, I would say the inspiration was Nicole's son, Blake. Really just tried as a parent, trying to see an outlook for your child that is unclear and uncertain and we wanted to provide a different outlook. A different perspective. And really, this whole neurodiversity movement is about a different perspective. So, we wanted to give our students an option. You take your Part 107 exam. Not hard. Maybe prep 30-40 hours. Go and you buy a drone and now you're a drone pro. Okay, not really. And we saw that as an opportunity. An opportunity to provide standardized training and a platform that allows our students to essentially what I want to do, is I want to put them in the top one percent of the industry. Based on the training and knowledge and experience that they can gather in our program.
At Neurodiversity Works we’re more focused on the students and getting them prepared for the industry. We work a little bit and we're deciding that there's probably more than we need to do of working with the industry to get them ready for the students.
Lucy Jabbour: Yeah, that's such a really good idea, because I think that is a disconnect, actually, on both sides. How are you guys kind of connecting the dots to find meaningful employment for somebody who does go through your program?
Jason San Souci: So, we sort of set this up ad hoc as we were going along, because kind of the same thing that goes on in the industry, it's very much a have drone, have Part 107. Now where are all the jobs? We took a completely different approach. We're like, look, get your Part 107. However long that takes. If it takes three weeks. If it takes three days. If it takes three months, that's fine. We are here for you to support that. We provide the students with a mentor. This cannot be undervalued. This is huge for the student. Not only do they have someone they can go to that they can ask questions, but then they also have an ally in the industry that can lend a hand down and let them know of opportunities. After that, we introduce them to Job shadowing opportunities. Now these are paid job shadowing opportunities.
Lucy Jabbour: That’s awesome.
Jason San Souci: Yeah, this is huge. Like we want them to get them in the field so they could start to see the breadth of what's happening on the operations side. Why are people even flying drones? What do people even do with this industry. But beyond that, we showcase more than just the flying of the drone, we showcase cradle to grave. This is how we're talking to the customer. This is what they're asking for. We talk about the deliverables. We talk about the right equipment. We talk about how we prep that equipment. Do the pre flights. Fly it. Do the debriefs. You know, deal with data security. Actually, create deliverables and do the processing and the analytics and then deliver it. So, we want to do the entire chain with our student because we have some students that don't want to fly drones. They love the analytics part.
Lucy Jabbour: Huh.
Jason San Souci: No shock. That's actually not shocking to me. I love the analytics part. I love it. And there are, one thing that's interesting about, not all - let me be very clear. That's kind of also a stereotype or misconception that's out there. There are amazing neurodivergent folks in the arts, in marketing, in sales, in anything, in education. In every career out there. We're focused on this one niche. So, this one niche, and if this isn't for our student. They’re out. Like, they will they will self-disqualify themselves. Because if it's for them, they will rocket ship. If it's not, they will disappear. That is fine. It's not for them. We're not going to be for everyone and that is okay.
DaiJah Metoyer: What is the message or key takeaway you would like our listeners to have from this interview?
Jason San Souci: I think what I would want people to walk away from this interview with the idea of the concept of neurodiversity. Potentially seeing even like a superpower. Like this is something that can be transformative. And that when we talk about how we develop workforce development programs, that we're looking at the full spectrum of everything that's out there. Let's work on inclusion and belonging. Thank you for letting me get that out there and share this is story. We believe it's very important.
Part 107 PSA: What in the drone world is Part 107 and why should you care? One word: safety. The FAA cares about the safety of everyone in the air and on the ground, and so should you. As a drone pilot, it’s your responsibility to always fly your drone safely. Following the rules in Part 107 helps keep people safe and our airspace system the safest in the world. Sound exciting? Learn more at faa.gov/uas.
Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out faa.gov/podcasts. Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss a single episode. Coming up next week...
Ishitha Arekapudi: It’s kind of crazy to me how you can start flying gliders at the age of 14. Like, I didn’t know that and it’s just crazy about that. So, when I found out about that, I was like, that’s something I want to do. Like if I can start now, I want to start now.